The very foundations of the State House were shaken in 2012 when Malawians said enough is enough to the poor economic and political policies of the Democratic Progressive Party government during the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) an All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference.
The genesis was the July 20 2011 nationwide mass demonstrations that sent a clear message to the tenant of the State House, the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, to step down for failing to govern the country in a democratic way.
After Mutharika refused to bow down to the pressure exerted by the mass protests, what followed was a 60-day ultimatum given by delegates to the two-day stakeholders’ conference for failure to solve the country’s persistent problems.
The conference, chaired by Anglican Bishop of Southern Malawi James Tengatenga, which came at a time Mutharika’s popularity ratings had hit the record bottom, was held under the theme ‘Time to reclaim our destiny-seeking redress to political and economic challenges’.
Over 150 delegates, who converged on Limbe Catholic Cathedral hall from March 14 to 15, discussed, among others, the constitutional gaps and opportunities in the light of the political order and economic situation at the time.
A communiqué at the end of the conference gave the late Mutharika two major options: To step down within 60 days for failure to solve the country’s persistent problems or alternatively call for a referendum within 90 days for Malawians to decide their destiny.
“Prompted by signs in our society that point to a crisis in political, economic and constitutional governance, inspired by PAC’s prophetic mandate, realising that God does not change the conditions of people unless the people themselves show commitment to change them, we did a serious introspection and critical analysis based on hard questions that need to be addressed if we have to reclaim our future as a nation,” reads part of the communiqué preamble.
“At the conference, there were calls that the current government should resign. Failing which, a referendum must be called to give a chance to the nation to express its mind on the matter,” it reads.
The hot issues at that time included the need to repeal the bad laws such as Section 46 of the Penal Code, the Police Act, Injunctions Law and Local Government Act (S)147 (5).
The late Mutharika’s government went into bad books with Western donors and things became worse after the British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet was declared persona non grata following a leaked cable which painted the Malawi leadership as becoming dictatorial.
Mutharika was asked to stop using inflammatory language, address the fuel and forex shortages, repeal the bad laws, appoint commissioners of the Electoral Commission, ensure media freedom and investigate the death of Polytechnic student the late Robert Chasowa.
However, when PAC board was preparing to meet the president to deliver the communiqué officially, Mutharika held a public meeting in Mangochi where he responded to the issues.
He categorically refused to bow down to demands from the religious leaders and other stakeholders. He was supported by party zealots, some of whom, are now in the People’s Party (PP).
As fate would have it, Mutharika died after suffering a cardiac arrest exactly 20 days after the conference. But realising that the government machinery still remained, PAC did not allow the issues raised at the conference to be buried together with Mutharika at Ndata Farm.
In July, the religious body announced plans to conduct a follow up conference, saying despite changing of leadership in the country, Malawians still need to review democratic challenges and constitutional gaps that still existed to realise real democracy.
In a narrative report of the March All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference, PAC said there is need for a follow-up conference to among others; consider the view that the presidency has “too much powers in Malawi”.
It was no wonder that PAC held a second All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference on October 30 to 31 at Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre which tackled three key issues: political assessment in Malawi, constitutionalism beyond 2012 and the economic situation focusing on the impact of devaluation of the local currency.
Among others, the second conference resolved to restrict the power of the President to prorogue Parliament, end doubling up of members of Parliament as Cabinet ministers to avoid conflict of interest in the manner that such ministers discharge their duties.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara and Lands and Housing Minister Henry Phoya represented government at the second conference while during the March gathering, they were both present as part of those aggrieved by the State machinery.
Days after the conference, unlike her predecessor, President Joyce Banda welcomed the PAC delegation at Sanjika Palace where a formal presentation of the two communiqués was made, one for the March conference and the November resolutions.
The delegation cautioned Banda on several fronts, including lack of transformational leadership at all levels and politicisation of maize distribution.
On the food distribution, leader of delegation Blantyre Catholic Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Montfort Stima was quoted as having told the President that: “We are not saying you are doing a bad job in Malawi, but perhaps you need to adequately explain to Malawians, and indeed tread carefully so that you do not dent your image. It would have been better if you identified alternative ways of giving charitable food.”
But almost like a slap in the face of PAC, Banda defied the call and told gatherings in Mulanje, Mwanza and Kasungu that she would carry on with her mission to personally distribute food to people affected with hunger because no one could stop her from undertaking the exercise.
PAC publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali said it was unfortunate that Banda had chosen to remain adamant and that she was walking in the footsteps of the Mutharika regime.
On his part, Malawi Watch executive director Billy Banda said he was shocked that leaders do not learn from others, always starting well, but becoming arrogant and self-praising as power gets into their heads.